The Charlotte News
SUNDAY, JANUARY 17, 1937
A Libel On The Midwest
--By W. J. Cash
ACCORDING to the New York Times of Sunday before last, Mr. John Abbott Clark climbs up on his legs and proceeds to give the middlewest and particularly the middlewestern "school of literature" merry hell in the current issue of the Southern Review--a journal which, living in Shelby, a town that boasts of its payroll and counts public libraries as superfluous luxuries to be cheerfully dispensed with, I rarely see.
The estimable Times has Mr. Clark saying that middlewestern literature "has been a failure, mainly because writers have not taken the pains to fasten their fictions upon characters who are suffering, laughing, wondering, even occasionally thinking, human beings before they are moronic middlewesterners. Join a welter of science, psychology and disillusionment (all met at third-hand) to ninth-rate literary equipments, and the results are bound to be caricatures and lies: behavioristic death-masks, stream-of-consciousness sollipsisms, short stories (they used to be called sketches) that hit absolute lows in flatness and humorlessness, and scenes and impressions of life in the middlewest that naturally cause readers from other sections of the country to wonder if hell has ever yet been definitely placed."
Take It From Mike
That criticism frankly leaves me with my hackles up. Not because I don't think there is some measure of truth in it. There is. I think, as I have insinuated on this page more than once, that some good part of it can be maintained against Mr. Sinclair Lewis; and one devil of a lot more of it against Mr. Ernest Hemingway. And as for those minor writers who are properly speaking the "school"--as for Mr. Vardis Fisher and company--as for all the imitative and so sterile host--I'm perfectly willing to go whole hog with Mr. Clark, and damn them to the last bottomless pit. My opinion of "schools" of any sort indeed can only be expressed in one of those little four-letter onomatopoeic words which never get printed save in the New English dictionary and in the novels of Mr. James Joyce and Mr. Thomas Wolfe. I want my Michelangelo from the hands of Mike and not from some thirtieth-rate copyist of the seventeenth century.
But as a wholesale indictment, Mr. Clark's criticism is mainly gross libel. Who exactly do we think of first when we think of the middlewestern literature of the teens and twenties--the literature Mr. Clark is specifically assailing? Why, Lewis aside, exactly Mr. Dreiser, Mr. Anderson, and Miss Cather. And is it really true that Sister Carrie and Hurstwood and Frank Cowperwood and old man Gerhardt and his gal, Jennie, and Paul Dresser; the denizens of Winesburg; Antonia and her fiddling old father and all the people of that sun-drenched Nebraska scene--that these are not "suffering, laughing, wondering, even occasionally thinking, human beings before they are moronic middlewesterners"? Is it true that they are "caricatures and lies"? that the middlewest is indistinguishable from hell in the pages of Cather and Anderson--or in those wonderful pictures Dreiser has drawn for us in "A Hoosier Holiday" and his autobiographical tomes? that these three can boast no better than "ninth-rate literary equipment?"
My little readers are not fools--and so I do not have to bother to answer.
As For Mr. Dreiser
[The remainder of the article, consisting of two short paragraphs was torn when originally microfilmed and thus can largely only be discerned in snippets. With interpretation added in brackets, we have attempted to provide the gist of it.]
But Mr.Dreiser, at least, is guilty of using "Science, Psychology, and Disillusionment." And it is understandable [as a] pursuit of the reality [which is sought by Mr.] Dreiser, and Mr. [Lewis, and] perhaps even Miss [Cather]... [followed by missing pair of sentences which appear to talk further about the falsity of the Clark statement of "hell not having been definitely placed" as a result of the shallow portraits alleged to have been provided by these authors and that they do not make mid-westerners into some "third-rate" "race of Yahoos" but provide "authentic portraits" and concludes, "[A]nd did Mr. Clark ever hear of Charles Dickens?"]
But my worst objection to Mr. Clark's criticism remains to be [named]. It is not only true, yes, that Mr. Clark alleges what is not true, but that he alleges it to an ulterior end. [If there is] a coon in this woodpile [and you take] the trouble to [ferret him] out, he turns out to bear a striking resemblance to [our] country about Nashville, including Mr. Allen Tate and John Crowe Ransom: to be seen more than a little [missing word] and Neo-Confederate [last part of last sentence indiscernible; it appears to take a swipe at the group of writers and Vanderbilt professors Cash could never abide, the Agrarians, the insinuation being that Mr. Clark and his Southern Review formed essentially a mouthpiece for that group].
Links-Date -- Links-Subj.